Maldives 2013 – Whale & dolphin watching

The Maldives is a small island nation in the central Indian Ocean, some 400 miles southwest of the southern tip of India. The Maldives is an independent republic, with the capital on the central island of Malé. The country is composed entirely of coral atolls, with some 1,200 sandy islands.  All are small, and most can be walked around in less than an hour.  These really are the picture postcard islands of your dreams, with swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons.

For many people the exquisite islands and coral reefs of the Maldives require little introduction but it is not widely known that the Maldives also possess a particularly rich whale and dolphin fauna.  Especially exciting is the great diversity of species found here.  In recent years we have recorded an astonishing 23 different species. Spinner, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, and short-fin pilot whales are all common.  Spotted and striped dolphins, and dwarf sperm whales are all regulars.

Recent highlights have included superb views of sperm, blue and Bryde’s whales, and also beaked whales including Cuvier’s, Blainville’s and Longman’s.  This last was long considered the rarest whale in the world, but is now known to occur regularly around the Maldives.

During our October trip we will travel along the eastern edge of the Maldivian atolls, where a particularly wide variety of tropical whales and dolphins (including beaked whales) congregate at this time of year.  The Maldives offers some of the very best whale and dolphin watching in the world, and this will be the primary focus of these trips.  However there will also be opportunities to visit islands, to swim, to go snorkelling, and to relax.

We travel through the Maldives on-board our specially chartered 100 foot liveaboard safari vessel, M.V. Ari Queen.  She has a local crew of 9, including an experienced captain and a full-time cook.  All cabins are ensuite and air-conditioned.  There are 10 cabins, but we normally travel with a maximum of just 16 guests.

Our itinerary will be very flexible, to make the most of cetacean sightings.  The outline given below should therefore be considered to be a guideline only.  We will travel past the atolls, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and taking our time to watch dolphins, whales, flying fish and seabirds, and perhaps also magnificent manta rays.  As is normal practice in the Maldives, we will travel by day, and anchor early each evening in a sheltered atoll lagoon.  Depending on our location there should be opportunities for a snorkel or island visit at these times, and after dark, far from city lights, the top deck offers stunning views of the night sky.

This is a superb trip that promises great cetacean sightings, a delightful tropical cruise, coral reefs, paradise islands, and friendly local people.

If you would like to spend more time in the beautiful Maldives before or after the cruise please contact me to help you arrange a stay on the islands.

Day 1,                        October 13th                         Arrival in Maldives

Arrive at Malé (Ibrahim Nasir International Airport) and transfer to MV Ari Queen.  Depart soon after midday.  With a little luck we can expect our first cetacean sighting while still in sight of the airport!  Tonight, and every night, we will anchor in a sheltered location within one of the atolls. Depending on anchoring time there may be time for a swim, snorkel or island visit.  This first evening there will be an orientation talk, and most other evenings there will be a slide show or video.

Days 2 – 6,    October 14th to 18th Whale and dolphin watching in the eastern atolls

Some mornings we will search out schools of spinner dolphins at locations where we know they regularly occur.  We will then head out of the atolls, in search of pilot whales, other whales, dolphins and seabirds.  Each evening we will anchor in the lagoon of an atoll, and there should be some opportunities to swim, snorkel or visit an island.  On one day we will try to visit a site where manta rays regularly congregate.

Day 7,                        October 19th                         Whale and dolphin watching off Malé Atoll

After a final full day of whale and dolphin watching Ari Queen moves to Malé.  Farewell dinner and last night on board.

Day 8,                        October 20th                         Malé

After breakfast transfer to international airport for departure.

Our aims on these trips will be to spend time with the delightful and acrobatic spinner dolphins; to see a good variety of the other tropical whale and dolphin species that occur in the Maldives; and if conditions are suitable, to swim with giant Manta Rays.  These are stunningly beautiful creatures, and for most people the chance to swim with them is a wildlife highlight of a lifetime.

The cruise will be based on the comfortable liveaboard safari boat, M.V. Ari Queen. It will be conducted at a leisurely pace, allowing time to swim and snorkel, and to visit a variety of islands.  Our itinerary will be flexible to make the most of our cetacean sightings, but we hope to have the opportunity to visit uninhabited, fishing and resort islands.  In addition to the attractions offered on all of our cruises, the particular highlights of these trips should include:

 Encounters with numerous whale & dolphin species (including beaked whales)

 Hundreds of delightful spinner dolphins

 Stately pilot whales and false killer whales

 Chance to swim with Manta Rays

 Beautiful islands and coral reefs of the Maldives  

CLIMATE

The Maldive islands span the equator, stretching from about 7°N to ½°S, so the climate is tropical.  During October the weather is normally calm and sunny, with just the occasional shower.  During our boat-based trips the sea should be calm, which makes for ideal offshore whale-watching.  Temperatures do not vary much throughout the year.  Daytime air temperatures typically reach 29-31°C during the day, dropping to about 25-27°C at night.  Sea breezes make this quite comfortable. Sea temperatures average about 28°C, which makes for luxurious snorkelling!

MALDIVIAN WILDLIFE

Cetaceans

The great attraction of whale and dolphin watching in the Maldives is the wonderful diversity of species that can be seen.  On most trips we see 10 or more different species, and these are not just distant glimpses: many species bow-ride and can be seen in their entirety at close range.  In addition, some species that are rarely seen elsewhere (for example the dwarf sperm whale) are common here.  Of course, nothing can be guaranteed with wild animals, but on our trip we have an excellent chance of seeing spinner, bottlenose, Indo-pacific bottlenose, Risso’s, spotted and striped dolphins, shortfin pilot, false killer, dwarf sperm and Cuvier’s beaked whales.

We can also expect to see several of the following: blue, Bryde’s, sperm, pygmy killer, melon-headed, dense-beaked and Longman’s beaked whales, as well as rough-toothed and Fraser’s dolphins and Orca.

On a typical 7-day trip we have 30-40+ separate sightings of cetaceans.  A sighting might be of one large whale or a school of over 200 dolphins.  In total on each trip we expect to see 1500-2500 cetaceans of 8-11 species. 

Birds

About 180 species have been recorded from the islands so far, but as there has been relatively little ornithological study, many more species (particularly northern migrants) undoubtedly await discovery.  There are no endemic species, but there are a few endemic subspecies, including white-breasted waterhen, Indian pond-heron, striated heron and Maldivian house crow.

There will be plenty of opportunity for seabird watching.  Over 40 species of seabird have been recorded, including many rare tropical species and migrant storm-petrel.  Species likely to be seen during our trips include wedge-tailed and Audubon’s shearwaters, white-tailed tropicbird, lesser frigatebird, lesser crested, great crested, roseate, black-naped, bridled and sooty terns, brown and lesser noddys, and the ethereal white tern.   

Other marine life

There will be opportunities for snorkelling (and diving for qualified divers) on the coral reefs.  The most spectacular feature of these reefs is the abundant fish life.  Over 1000 species of fish have been recorded from the Maldives.  You will be able to see over 200 species while snorkelling.  Flying fish are abundant and will be spotted regularly as we travel outside the atolls.  With just a little luck we should see manta rays.  Five species of turtle are known from the Maldives, and we have a chance of seeing three: green and hawksbill turtles in the atolls, and Olive Ridley turtles out in the ocean.

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